By Cleland Thom
Cleland Thom is director of CTJT, the UK’s largest media and communications ecollege. He is also recognised as one of the UK´s leading media and
He has trained more than 2,000 people from hundreds of businesses, public
authorities, websites and charities. See them
His clients include some of the largest organisations in the UK, including the
World Trade Group, the NHS and London Councils.
He is also legal adviser to the Manchester Evening News and Manchester
Electronic Media and has trained editors and journalists from all the UK's key
He was group editor and senior executive of nine UK regional paper titles in
London and was appraised as being their ‘best all-round editor for nearly 50
He holds the National Council for the Training of Journalists National Certificate,
the Certificate of Education from La Sainte Union College for Higher Education,
Guildhall School of Music and Drama Grade 8 qualifications in Speech and Drama
and Public Speaking and is an NVQ assessor, and moderator.
Cleland is a member of the Society of Editors and the Chartered Institute of
Journalists. He has done freelance work for all the national daily and Sunday
papers and for magazines, local radio and television.
Speed-reading, like anything else, takes practice.
And it’s NOT about techniques – although there are some.
It is ALSO about looking at:
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What you read.
When you read it.
Why you read it.
How you read it.
So this eBook deals with all those things – and more.
These are the objectives:
1. Identifying how you can reduce the amount you read.
2. Identifying the things that slow you down.
3. Improving concentration.
4. Getting the basics right.
5. Learning to read different things in different ways.
6. Developing a reading plan.
7. Speed reading techniques.
Reducing the amount you read
People used to dream about a paperless office. No chance! There’s more paper
around than ever. So before we start looking at speed-reading techniques, it’s
helpful to try and REDUCE the amount you read in the first place.
Here are some suggestions:
Train other staff to read more for you and then either bin stuff you don’t
need, or inform you about it if it is important in summary form – but DEFINE
what constitutes important so they know.
Set up highly efficient spam-detecting systems to weed out unwanted
Don’t use the work email system for your personal correspondence.
If you get unwanted mail, memos, email etc go to the source and get
yourself removed from the distribution lists.
Try to arrange with your colleagues a new system of writing memos – simple
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bullet points and action points. Maybe arrange training etc.
Use a highlight pen to mark things you read. Discipline yourself not to read
anything that isn’t important.
Take reading with you for travelling or unexpected waiting periods, like
holding on the phone.
Does it need to be read at all? What will happen if you don’t read it?
Can a task be delegated? Delegate things than can be done by someone
Is better than you.
Cheaper than you.
Faster than you.
Less busy than you.
Should be doing it anyway.
Needs to do the job as part of training and development.
Is up for promotion.
Get four boxes and mark them: Background reading, Junk, Routine and
Priority and divide the mess on your desk among them. Then deal with the stuff
Everything else can probably be chucked out.
Things that slow you down
Here are some common problems:
1. Limited perceptual span: i.e. word-by-word reading. Children do this … ‘Spot
went and sat down’.
2. Slow perceptual reaction time: That is, recognising and responding to the
material. It’s a good idea to learn phrases and words that you come across
very often – so when you see them, you don’t need to read them at all.
Be on the look-out for new ones and learn them as they arise.
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3. Reading out loud, or under your breath: If you’re in the habit of reading
under your breath, then stop – it will slow you down. You will never read
faster than you say it.
4. Faulty eye movements, including inaccuracy in placement of the page: Train
your eyes to go straight to the top left hand corner of the page. Practice
moving from left-hand pages to right and turning the page.
5. Lack of practice in reading: This may be due simply to the fact that you have
read very little and have limited reading interests, so that very little reading
is practised in the daily or weekly schedule.
6. Fear of not understanding something: This may cause you to deliberately
read more slowly, in the firm belief that comprehension is improved if you
spend more time on the individual words.
7. Habitual slow reading: You read slowly because you always have done.
8. Poor evaluation: you just read everything the same, and are not aware of
what’s important and what’s unimportant.
9. Poor concentration: everyone has a concentration span for different tasks –
whether it’s sitting listening, or reading a book.
Most people find their level for most tasks is around about an hour, but for
some people and some tasks it will just be a few minutes, while for others it
might be two or three hours.
Everyone’s concentration span is different – but everyone’s can be improved,
to an extent.
But it cannot be expanded to infinity!
The main barriers to concentrating are:
To improve our concentration skills we need to counteract these barriers.
The following three skills are basic to concentration.
If you want to improve your concentration, start by practising them.
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They will be followed by further strategies, which will allow you to build onto the
This sounds very simple, but it works. When you notice your thoughts
wandering, say to yourself STOP and then gently bring your attention back to
where you want it to be. Each time it wanders bring it back.
To begin with, this could be several times a minute. But each time, say STOP
and then re-focus.
Don't waste energy trying to keep thoughts out of your mind (forbidden
thoughts attract like a magnet!), just put the effort into STOP and re-focus.
To begin with you will do this hundreds of times a week.
But you will find that the period of time between your straying thoughts gets
a little longer each day, so be patient and keep at it.
ii) Worry time
Most of us start worrying while we’re reading – have I put the dinner in, did I
turn the light off, where did I put the car keys.
So – set aside one or more specific periods in the day when you are allowed
It can help to set them just before something that you know you will do, to
ensure that you stop worrying on time – e.g. before a favourite TV
programme, or a meal-time.
Whenever an anxiety or distracting thought enters your mind during the day,
banish it until your next worry time, and re-focus on what you are reading.
iii) Take a break
In between periods of concentration, do things to change your physical and
You could move around to boost your circulation if you have been sitting, or
you could think about something completely different – and fun – to give
your brain a new focus.
Ensure that your environment aids concentration – reduce distractions but
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don't be so comfortable that you nod off.
Do tasks that need most concentration at times when you are mentally and
physically fresh: concentration is harder to maintain when you are tired.
Check if you feel stuck whether the problem is one of poor concentration
rather than lack of the necessary knowledge or understanding – and if it’s
the latter, do something about it. Since these conditions act also to reduce
WHAT YOU UNDERSTAND as well as increasing the reading rate, eliminating
them is likely to result in better understanding of what you read, as well.
Getting the basics right
Speed-reading is not just about learning to read more quickly.
A very big part is getting rid of the things that make you read slowly!
If you deal with those, then your reading rates will increase straight away,
without you having to learn any fancy new techniques.
In fact, if you learn new techniques, without dealing with bad habits first, you
may well actually end up going slower!
And this can affect your confidence.
So, we want to try and improve the whole reading process.
There’s no magic formula: you won’t be able to speed-read unless you get the
basics right first.
You MUST go away and practice after today’s session.
Here are some things you may need to address:
1. Have your eyes checked
Before embarking on a speed-reading program, make sure that any
correctable eye defects you may have are taken care of by checking with
your eye doctor. Often, very slow reading is related to uncorrected eye
2. Don’t read out loud, or under your breath
If you do this, you can only read as fast as you can read aloud – which is
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You should be able to read most materials at least two or three times faster
silently than saying them out loud.
If you are aware of sounding or "hearing" words as you read, try to
concentrate on key words and meaningful ideas as you force yourself to read
3. Avoid re-reading
The average student reading at 250 words per minute regresses or rereads
about 20 times per page.
Rereading words and phrases is a habit, which will slow your reading speed
down to a snail's pace.
Usually, it is unnecessary to reread words, for the ideas you want are
explained and elaborated more fully in later contexts.
4. Develop a wider eye-span
This will help you read more than one word at a glance. Since written
material is less meaningful if read word by word, this will help you learn to
read by phrases.
Reading things in different ways
Poor results are inevitable if you read everything the same way.
An effective reader adjusts his rate; the ineffective reader uses the same rate for
all types of material.
Some you skim.
Some you must read in detail.
Some you must digest, analyse and retain.
Before you read anything you must work out WHAT IT IS and HOW YOU MUST
This is important. With some documents you might skim some sections and
analyse and digest others.
Imagine you plan to take a 100-mile mountain trip.
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Since this will be a relatively hard drive with hills, curves, and a mountain pass,
you decide to take three hours for the total trip, averaging about 35 miles an
This is your overall target speed.
However, in actual driving you may slow down to no more than 15 miles per
hour on some curves and hills, while speeding up to 50 miles per hour or more
on relatively straight and level sections.
It’s the same with speed-reading.
You must recognise that different sections will be read at different speeds.
So in fact, there is no set rate.
Developing a reading plan
Before you start reading something, it can be helpful to draw up a reading plan.
1. Glance through the document and decide: do I have to SKIM,
UNDERSTAND, OR DIGEST?
2. Mark the bits to SKIM, the bits you need to UNDERSTAND, and the bits you
must DIGEST. You may be able to cross some sections out altogether. If you
are reading the only copy, then photocopy it first!
3. Browse through the publication – frontwards or backwards – so that you get
to know what's in it and where it's located.
Notice the layout and how the information is presented. Notice the table
of contents and any special sections.
Note the complexity for YOU. While Einstein's theories may be extremely
difficult to most laymen, they may be very simple and clear to a
professor of physics. The layman and the physics professor must make a
different rate adjustment in reading the same material. Generally,
difficult material will entail a slower rate; simpler material will permit a
4. Compose questions that you aim to answer while you read: What do I
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already know about this topic? Activate prior knowledge.
5. Turn the first heading into a question, to which you will be seeking the
answer when you read. For example: "What were 'the effects of the Hundred
Years' War'?" – and you might add "on democracy, or on the economy"? Or
"What is 'the impact of unions on wages'?"
6. Work out your rate.
Here are some general tips for working out what can be read quickly and what
can be read slowly:
SLOW DOWN FOR:
Unfamiliar terminology. Try to understand it in context at that point;
otherwise, read on and return to it later.
Difficult sentence and paragraph structure. Make sure you untangle them
and get accurate context for the passage,
Unfamiliar or abstract concepts.
Detailed, technical material.
SPEED UP FOR:
Simple material with few ideas, which are new to you.
Unnecessary examples and illustrations. Since these are included to
clarify ideas, move over them rapidly when they are not needed.
Detailed explanation and idea elaboration, which you do not need.
Broad, generalized ideas and ideas which are restatements of previous
ones. These can be readily grasped by scanning them.
In time, you will learn to adjust your rate sensitivity from article to article. It is
equally important to adjust your rate within a given article. Practice these
techniques until a flexible reading rate becomes second nature to you.
Speed-reading takes practice. So it’s important to do general exercises all the
time, before trying specific techniques.
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1. Try to avoid focusing on every word, but rather look at groups of 2 to 3
words. For instance, this sentence could be grouped in this manner:
For instance / this sentence / could be grouped / in this manner.
2. Work on vocabulary improvement. Familiarise yourself with new words so
you don't get stuck on them when you read them again.
3. If you find yourself moving your lips when reading, force yourself to read
faster by following (1.) above so that you can no longer move your lips.
4. Read more! 15 minutes a day of reading an average size novel equals 18
books a year at an average reading speed!
5. Spend a few minutes a day reading at a faster than comfortable rate (about
2 to 3 times faster than your normal speed).
6. If you have poor concentration when reading, practice reading for only 5 - 10
minutes at a time and gradually increase this time.
7. Try reading upside down and back to front.
8. Use a metronome.
Set the metronome at a speed you can cope with.
The aim is to allow yourself two jumps of the eyes per line.
In other words, you are aiming to read the words on each line in two groups.
You read one group per click.
Read one – move your eyes to the next one – read it – go to the next line …
and so on.
As you get more experienced, speed it up!
Speed reading technique
There are a number of techniques you can use.
I find this one the best.
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But remember – you will not get the best out of it unless you:
CURE bad habits.
PRACTICE basic drills.
DO proper preparation.
This technique involves using a card or a folded-up piece of paper above the line
of print to block the words after you read them.
Draw it down the page slowly and evenly and try to read the passage before you
cover the words up.
This helps break you of the habit of reading a passage over and over again.
It makes you pay more attention the first time. Be sure to push the card down
faster than you think you can go. Slide the card down once per page.
Try to read words in groups, taking in more words with each 'stop' or 'fixation',
so you need to make fewer stops.
Try not to read back .
Some people prefer to use a pencil – above or below the line to guide your
NOW … Try to increase your vision so you are taking in an even bigger number
of words at each 'stop'.
Guide your pencil over a longer part of a line to help you.
When you are reading a document in detail, it often helps if you highlight,
underline and annotate it as you go on. This emphasises information in your
mind, and helps you to review important points later.
Doing this also helps to keep your mind focused on the material and stops it
Time to act!
You should be ready to do some practical work to boost your reading rate. And
we would like to help you.
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Please carry out the following tasks:
Find a newspaper or magazine article, or a piece of text that is around 300
Get a stopwatch.
Read the text (on paper, not on screen), as you normally would.
See how long it took – then count the words in the passage. Divide the
words by the number of minutes. This will give you your words-per-minute
reading rate. Make a note of it.
Tell us your reading rate that you logged, above
Write down your bad reading habits from the list above (and any others
that are not listed). With each one, say where you think that habit began.
Draw up a brief Action Plan, listing the strategies that you can implement
to eliminate your bad habits.
Email your work to email@example.com – in the subject field use the words:
eBook Speed reading for analysis
I'll be looking forward to hearing from you!
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